Euro 2016 Road Trip in France

If you love sports and travel like I do then what I’m about to say should immediately go onto your bucket list. I just did a Euro 2016 road trip around France attending 4 games in 5 days in 3 different stadiums in 3 different cities. My 3 friends and I also drove over 1000 miles and visited a dozen spots in between and really made it a full on experience.
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We experienced the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and annoyances of France while visiting some of the most famous sites in the southern half of the country and of course checking out the countryside all the way! Not to mention taking in all the sporting culture of different European nations, seeing them at their best and at their worst. Here’s how my Euro 2016 road trip went

Marseille

Marseille was the only one of the host cities that we went to games in for our Euro 2016 road trip that I had previously been to before. I visited about 3 years ago during a massive 9-day road trip and I have to say in hindsight I wasn’t that impressed with Marseille but it was pleasant enough. But I was eager to give it another try, especially as we had two games in Marseille at the Stade Velodrome.

We all met up in Marseille at an AirBnb in the Joliette section of town that could sleep 6 people even though we were only 4. The place was nice enough. It was spacious and right on the tram. From there we didn’t waste any time and headed out to the Old Fort area to pregame before the England vs. Russia match. And then the madness began!
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Well I should say we walked in on the tail end of the madness. If you’ve been following the tournament or stay up to date on International sports or news you probably heard about the clashes between English and Russians fans and the French police. Literally as we walked into the Old Fort area, we saw people getting tear-gassed and tons of fights and bottles and chairs being thrown. It was basically pure madness. I didn’t take photos but hopefully you saw it on Snapchat!

If you know the history of English soccer fans then you’ve likely heard of the subculture of hooliganism. I’ve been to a lot of games in England and I’ve seen it up close but never quite like this. To make it worse, the Russian fans have an awful reputation as well and let’s just say the Russian and English fans didn’t get along very well. Throw a ton of alcohol in the mix and it made for a scene that made international headlines and to be honest, it was downright scary.
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After we actually found a pub that wasn’t the center of a massive brawl and were able to have a drink or two before the game we had to figure out how to get to the game. So we took the metro because the stadium was a few miles away and the streets were basically closed or gridlock because of the violence.
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I’ve never seen a scene like the English on the Metro. It was amazing, funny, festive, weird and downright ridiculous. We saw English supporters who had no shirts on, were bleeding from head to toe and no shoes on for who knows what reason, trying to board the metro. The Marseille police were essentially useless and the Metro became a scene out of a ridiculous movie. If you follow me on Snapchat you would have seen much of this madness! But then it got worse.
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Before I get to that aftermath of the match, let me get to the match itself. The beautiful, and newly redone Stade Velodrome was a great setting for a big time soccer match. There were a ton of English fans as you’d imagine but there were also a ton of Russian fans as well. The game was intense and very closely contested. The English team, who I was cheering for, was clearly better but as is typical of the English-they couldn’t finish.
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After a second half goal to go up 1-0, the English conceded a 90th minute goal and ended up drawing 1-1 in a dramatic game. But the fireworks didn’t ended there. Literally, the Russians set off some type of firework just as the game was about to end, which apparently signaled their fans to attack the English fans. Now I’m sure both sides were at fault but it got vicious and violent very quick.
Euro 2016 Road Trip in France, Euro 2016 Road Trip, France, Euro 2016, UEFA Euro 2016, Stade Velodrome, Marseille, Russian flag
Immediately to our right riots broke out everywhere in the stands and people were getting beaten, trampled and all hell literally broke loose. At one point we saw innocent people getting pinned up against walls and fences and seriously feared there would be deaths as a result of this nonsense.
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Then the riot spilled over into our section and we were forced to run to avoid entering into the fray. I have been to thousands of games all around the world and I have never seen anything like this. I’ve never seen anything like this period. Then we had to worry about brawls carrying over into the streets. So we waited a while until most of the stadium had cleared out and very gingerly got out of there and avoided any further incidents.
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It’s hard to put into words what we witnessed but that’s basically how it went. The riots overshadowed a good game and both teams were warned and Russia was put on conditional disqualification-whatever that means. But it was the fans and their alcohol induced shenanigans that caused these incidents. And make no mistake, this was all planned and orchestrated. There are hooligan groups that organize fights. It’s insane and stupid and embarrassing for both countries and the tournament itself. Needless to say it got better when we came back to Marseille 4 days later.

Toulouse

Toulouse is about a 4.5 hour drive or so from Marseille and we actually had 2 nights in Toulouse before the Spain vs. Czech Republic game so we took our time getting there. We made 4-5 stops along the way including some really cool UNESCO World Heritage Sites and cool towns.
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We popped into Avignon; which is my favorite place in Provence. The Palais des Papes is fantastic even though the first time I went there a few years ago, I tripped down some stairs because I was reading a map in front of an Asian tour group! We walked around for a while, checked out Pont d’Avignon, had some gelato and continued on to Pont du Gard.
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Pont du Gard is a World Heritage Site and it’s basically an old, very impressive aqueduct in the middle of Provence. It straddles a gorgeous river and there are beaches on either side of the river where people are sunbathing and doing other beach activities. It was really a pleasant place to spend an hour or so.
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Next up on the way to Toulouse was Carcassonne. Carcassonne is a stunning medieval castle/fort city. I don’t know a better way to describe what it looks like from the outside. However, it’s very well preserved and it’s just really inviting.
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We walked around both the outside and inside before settling on a recommended place for dinner. The local dish here is cassoulet and obviously we ordered 3 different kinds to try and share. Dinner was very good and after stopping in a candy shop to buy an absurd amount of candy including some sour strawberries for me, we headed out to Toulouse.
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Toulouse is a city that I likely never would have visited if it weren’t for our Euro 2016 road trip but I’m certainly glad we did! We stayed at one of those apartment hotels that business travelers use and it was actually excellent and well priced given the enormity of the event and how crowded the city was.
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Toulouse is actually a very underrated place and it’s very pleasant. The buildings are all a rose color and the rooftops are mostly a rosy orange. The main square is where the fans from Spain and Czech Republic gathered and obviously that’s where we went as well.
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In complete contrast to the England vs. Russia game and their fans, the fans of Spain and Czech Republic were both well behaved and fun! This is what you were looking for from a Euro 2016 road trip, to see and experience the fun of global football. We really loved it and had a late night out in Toulouse with out new Spanish friends even if they wore dresses!
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The next day, after everyone fought off a hangover with kebabs, espresso and baguettes we headed over to the stadium for the early 3pm kickoff. We had amazing seats. Literally 3rd row and we were no more than 15 feet from the pitch.
Euro 2016 Road Trip in France, Euro 2016 Road Trip, France, Euro 2016, UEFA Euro 2016, Iker Casillas, Spain, bench
The game was pretty intense for a while as I was cheering for Spain and their bevy of Barcelona FC players. Although to be fair, Czech Republic had 2 Arsenal players so I did have to think about it a bit! A late goal from Mr. Shakira himself, Gerard Pique, gave Spain the win and the party went long into the night as fiestas involving the Spanish generally tend to!

Saint-Etienne

The drive from Toulouse to Saint-Etienne was about 5 hours and the weather was not great so it made for a bit of a long day and I was doing the bulk of the driving so it was tiring. There weren’t many exciting places to stop but the scenery was nice in some areas.
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I had never heard anything about Saint-Etienne to be honest and if you ask French people, it doesn’t have much to entice the visitor. However, it’s always fun to go to a new place and figure it out for yourself. We stayed in an AirBnb and it was by far the worst AirBnb I’ve ever seen. I mean, it was a total shithole and absolutely filthy.
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My shitty mattress had blood on it, the place smelled like stale cigarettes, marijuana and just general filth. Then they had a cat, so mix in kitty litter and the place was a real gem in a building that looked like it should’ve been condemned 20 year ago. That said, it was all that was available and we made the best of it and were hardly even there!
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The city of Saint-Etienne is never going to rival Paris or Nice as France’s top drawing cities. To be honest, it really isn’t that nice at all but was pleasant enough. However, they did go all out to embrace Euro 2016 and really had a good setup for the fans in the main square. This is where we ate and drank before heading to the game.
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The game featured Iceland, a team that is surely not known for soccer and 30,000+ of their adoring fans. The population of Iceland is only about 300,000 so that means that about 10% of the population of Iceland was at the game-and believe me you noticed them! They were the best fans we saw on our Euro 2016 road trip.
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They played Portugal, featuring the 2 most hated players in global football (both from Real Madrid), Pepe and Cristiano Ronaldo-the second best player in the world after Lionel Messi. He’s easily the most polarizing figure in soccer and maybe all of global sports. It was a fun match-up in what turned out to be an amazing atmosphere for soccer.
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The Iceland fans brought their A-Game. They sang and chanted the entire game and absolutely dominated the Portuguese fans. They really inspired their team to a 1-1 draw against the heavily favored Portuguese side. Needless to say I was thrilled, as I never cheer for Ronaldo who used play for Manchester United and currently plays for Real Madrid-my two most hated teams in soccer!
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After the game there wasn’t a ton going on and after barely sleeping because of the disgusting nature of the apartment, we cut out of Saint-Etienne early to head back to Marseille.

Marseille Part Deux

The last leg of the Euro 2016 road trip was about 6 hours and was actually longer because of some construction and other traffic around Marseille. To break it up we made a few stops. The best was Nimes.
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Nimes is a really cool old town that features some excellent restaurants, ridiculously small streets to drive on and a few cool sites like the Maison Carree and the Roman Coliseum like Arena of Nimes. It’s a great place stop for a few hours, have a nice meal and stroll around-just be sure to tuck your rearview mirrors in on the old city streets!
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Back in Marseille, we learned from our mistake and stayed in the Prado District so we could walk to the stadium and avoid the hassles we dealt with the first game. We stayed in another one of those apartment hotels that was a nice 3-bedroom with a great view and terrace-although we didn’t use it at all.
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We had been speculating for days what another game in Marseille would be like after the madness of England vs. Russia. Was it simply the crazy fans? Was it the Marseille police? Was it the city or the venue? Turns out seeing Albania vs. France in their home country was the tamest and most polite game we saw. It was actually quite shocking yet pleasant at the same time because it was night and day from the first game.
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In a game that was honestly pretty boring for about 89 minutes until France scored 2 late goals to win 2-0; France had 90% of the fans. But I would argue that the Albanian fans were much better and cheered more and louder. It was nice to see especially after my recent trip to Albania.
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So after a 3.5-hour train ride from Marseille back to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, I’m writing this 2400+ word novel on the plane home reminiscing on an amazing experience and one that was honestly very unique. There are few sporting events that you can really road trip in a country and take in some of the best soccer in the world night after night.
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4 games in 5 days plus driving, sightseeing, eating, drinking, etc. probably sounds aggressive but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. The funny thing is I had to leave a day early and my friends are going to Germany vs. Poland in Paris which will be 5 games in 6 days for them. It’s amazing how much you can do or accomplish in a short period of time. As they say, where there’s a will, there’s a way and there’s nothing to it but to do it. Plus, I’m so glad I got to share the experience with some great friends especially because they did all the planning for which I am grateful! The only issue now is of course that it’s going to suck watching the rest of the tournament on TV!

Comments

  1. Epic road trip, Lee! You got to watch some classic matches in this tournament, including Portugal vs. Iceland! A lot of upsets with the underdogs and last minute goals have been making Euro 2016 extremely fun to watch.
    Do you plan on doing a repeat road trip for World Cup 2018 in Russia? Or is the English vs. Russia experience making you think twice about potential safety concerns for that tournament?

    • Ray we were discussing just that after the Russia/England nonsense and the answer is I’m not sure about a road trip because the country is so damn big but I may try to get semis/finals tickets for that World Cup. I imagine the turnout will be less than most world cups plus I do enjoy Moscow.

  2. This trip is literally my dream! I’ve really enjoyed following your snaps from France and look forward to more adventures.

  3. I wish I could argue with you but hooliganism is systemic amongst the lower class. They organize for club and international football matches with the intent of causing havoc. It’s a very sad state of affairs and an embarrassment to the FA.

    • Agreed 100%. The fact that some English fans are banned from international travel and all FA venues is kind of amazing in an embarrassing way! I just don’t understand what joy they get from hooliganism. But I’m also a peace loving, rational human being!

  4. I wanted to be able to thank you for this websites! Appreciate your sharing sharing.

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